By MICHAEL VIRTANEN
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) a¿¿ New York is awarding $4.5 million in additional grants for food banks to help offset the 5 percent cut in the federal food stamps program that began this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.
The 15 percent increase in the state program, described as holiday season grants, will be distributed through 46 organizations intended to reach about 2,600 food banks and other emergency providers statewide, Cuomo said. The federal program cut amounts to about $300 million annually affecting 3.1 million New Yorkers, he said.
"We've seen an increase in demand in general of close to 14 percent this year," Cuomo said of the emergency meals. "And we've seen the federal government cut back food assistance. So it's compounding itself. The state is going to do everything it can to try and rectify the situation."
A temporary federal food stamp benefit from the 2009 economic stimulus stopped in November. The U.S. agriculture department says that means a family of four receiving food stamps now gets about $36 less a month.
Mark Dunlea, executive director of Hunger Action Network of New York State, said Congress is considering further cuts over the next 10 years to the federal program, which has grown significantly the last several years. Those cuts would make it harder to qualify for working poor people, who now comprise about half those in it, he said.
The food stamps program has more than doubled in cost since 2008, with benefits going to more than 47 million Americans, now costing almost $80 billion a year. That large increase in spending has turned the program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, into a target for House Republicans looking to reduce spending.
"What's going on here is a bad economy," Dunlea said, citing the 2007 recession and subsequent employment struggles and unemployment being roughly double what it was.